Live Oak has been one of the area’s biggest surprises this season, off to a 2-0 start in District 4-5A and in position to make just its second playoff appearance since joining the Class 5A ranks.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the catalyst of the Eagles is something of an underdog himself.
Senior running back Will Higginbotham stands only 5-foot-6, 145 pounds, but uses shifty open-field moves and sheer grit to throw defenders for a loop.
He was back at it again in Friday night’s 23-0 shutout of Walker, rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and catching two passes out of the backfield for 51 yards.
He also had a pair of long running plays negated by penalties.
“I do take pride in being small,” Higginbotham said. “I just want to show kids that are as small as I am that they can grow up and do what they want. Size doesn’t matter.”
Higginbotham runs right past conventional wisdom when he speeds through rival secondaries.
He does admit, however, that his small stature can make him more susceptible to injury.
After missing a chunk of Live Oak’s district schedule last season because of a knee injury, Higginbotham suffered a concussion against St. Amant in the 2015 season opener and was forced to sit out a Week 2 rout of Kipp Renaissance.
But coach Brett Beard said the lack of early season touches has made Higginbotham that much more of a force during district play.
“It ended up playing into our hands because he’s fresh,” Beard said. “He’s been able to take the rock in the last three or four weeks and be our workhorse.”
Beard had a simple response when asked how a player Higginbotham’s size can sometimes put the Live Oak offense on his back.
“He’s a warrior,” Beard said.
Higginbotham has churned out 697 yards rushing on 103 carries — and caught seven passes for 124 more — in six games this season.
After sweeping past Livingston Parish rivals Denham Springs and Walker to start district play, he and the Eagles (5-2) now turn their focus to a Friday home game against 2014 state semifinalist Zachary.
Live Oak surely has Zachary’s full attention thanks to the 2-0 start.
So, too, should the team’s undersized feature back.
Denham loses heartbreaker
For the second time in as many seasons, Denham Springs saw its bid to upset Zachary result in a near miss.
The Yellow Jackets had a chance to force overtime Friday night after Torez Kinchen scored on a 3-yard run with 11 seconds left, but the two-point try failed, and Zachary escaped with a 32-30 home win.
A long pass play in the final minute last year gave the Broncos a 28-24 victory.
“There’s still a lot of football left to play, and the district is still to be decided,” Denham coach Dru Nettles said. “We can achieve as much as we put our minds to.”
Denham took an early 14-0 lead Friday behind a strong effort by Kinchen, who finished 19-of-30 for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Tyre Golmond rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries.
Nonetheless, the Yellow Jackets (4-3) will head to Central this week still looking for their first 4-5A win.
Denham has lost its first two district games by four combined points, including a 16-14 defeat against Live Oak in the district opener.
“I love my guys, and the future for this 2015 team is still to be determined,” Nettles said.
In other 4-5A action this week, Walker returns home to host Scotlandville as the Wildcats look for their first district win.
Walker (5-2) cruised through its nondistrict slate unbeaten before suffering double-digit losses to Central and Live Oak the last two weeks.
Scotlandville bounced back from a narrow loss to Zachary in its district opener with a 34-0 pounding of Central.
The matchup of Walker’s Terry Bozeman, who led the state in passing as a junior, and Scotlandville’s Levi Lewis features two of the area’s top quarterbacks.
Around the parish
Albany saw Jewel Sumner reel off 22 unanswered points Friday to break away for a 35-12 victory. The Hornets (5-2) continue 7-3A play when they travel to play Bogalusa in their first road game of the season.
Springfield (1-6) looks for its first win in 8-2A on Friday when the Bulldogs host Archbishop Hannan. Springfield fell to 0-4 in district with a 27-20 loss to Pine.
The Live Oak Middle eighth-grade team clinched the parish championship with a 38-6 victory over Southside last week, improving to 8-0 on the season. The Live Oak seventh-graders (7-1) beat Albany 26-14.